Handmade Shoes (UK) Ltd Spring Clinic
Quite simply brilliant. The Icelandic Ash Cloud gave some cause for concern in the week running up to the clinic but, thankfully, flights resumed and Craig Trnka was able to travel from his home in Edgewood, New Mexico. Well known and highly regarded for his farriery achievements, including being crowned World Champion Blacksmith at Calgary in 1999, Craig’s reputation for humour and entertainment precedes him and certainly did not disappoint!
Following a warm welcome and introduction by Clinic hosts, Billy and Lucy Crothers and the Handmade Shoes team, the morning session kicked off with an interview with Craig. Describing himself as an ‘open book’ Craig provided a delightful insight into the personal life behind the professional exterior. Craig has two sons; Bodie (18) and Levi (12) and is married to his “lovely” wife Chris who runs a successful clothing embroidery business (modelled by Craig!). “In an age when you need to have a kid to set the VCR”, Bodie is the “most intelligent kid on the planet”. Levi is like “Sky Walker”, plays the saxophone and is “extremely cool”. “At the moment it is all about the kids” and Craig “wants the kids to exceed himself”.
Craig is a keen cyclist and similar to competition farriery “those that put the most pain in, get the most out!” Craig considers it important to have a hobby outside your career to be healthy, something that is not shoeing. As you get older it is also more apparent that it is important to take care of yourself, injuries gained later in life do not heal as quickly.
It has “always been about horseshoeing” and Craig enjoys the everyday process of shoeing horses, “the secret to your happiness is making your vocation”. Unlike the UK, the US has no apprenticeship and much is learnt from the horse owners themselves. Once you have been shoeing for a while and you began to interact with fellow ‘shoers’ the learning really begins. Edward Martin was named as a great influence in Craig’s career; cited as “an ambassador for his trade and a great man”. There have been many other influences too along with the American, English and Welsh farrier teams. Stating the “biggest problem with horseshoeing is that it looks simple”, Craig demonstrated a humble appreciation of the learning process involved in developing skills as a farrier. As a young farrier you are “young and arrogant and want to beat everyone” but as your career develops you build a greater appreciation for what you can learn from others – “youth is wasted on the youth”. Asked on his feelings towards ‘barefoot’ trimmers in the US, Craig quite simply states he has “never seen a barefoot trimmer that is barefoot”(!!) and until that day he will not take them seriously! The number one reason for shoeing is where wear exceeds growth, trimming is everything though and is the foundation for which farriers place their appliance on.
Following on from being crowned ‘World Champion Blacksmith’ at the Calgary Stampede in 1999 Craig ran for the position of American Farriers Association President which he gained, and held, for four years. Craig believes as a competitor and a recognised figure within the industry you have a “responsibility for your trade” and recognised an opportunity to influence an industry he cares passionately about – “to cultivate and keep it going”. During his time as President the AFA membership grew from 1300 to 3500 and the Conventions were well attended too. Craig would describe himself as fairly confrontational and it is easy to see, and admire, that he is a ‘doer’ as opposed to being a ‘talker’ stating he “doesn’t ask for permission but seeks forgiveness”!!
Craig believes competition farrier’s network better than anyone else and their camaraderie is unlike any other profession. Isolation is the “biggest disease of farriers”, once you involve yourself around your peers you gain a better grasp of what you do know and what you don’t. It is important to hear criticism - perhaps the “first sign of insanity is when you do something the same again and again and you get the same result – it doesn’t fix itself”. Farriery competitions provide a basis upon which learning can be accelerated.
Craig thoroughly enjoys his trips to the UK but likens the flight to being in a “giant flying tube of death which is a petri dish full of germs”(!) however he will be visiting again within just two weeks to participate in the Mustad ‘Champion of Champions’ exhibition, alongside other previous winners of the World Championships. He himself will be attending not only as a participant but will be armed with “a camera and autograph book” and is proud to be part of such an occasion. Whilst he acknowledges it is “impossible to rightfully beat Champions from different generations” he believes this will be a terrific event.
Founder of the World Championship Blacksmiths, “people helping people”, Craig’s dedication to his profession is remarkable. The WCB is membership based which helps to fund the lorry movement across the US for each event. At the moment, along with sponsorship, the accounts are running at a little over break even. The US government provides funding to be at horse exhibitions which is a great help. The WCB provides an opportunity to watch others, similar to competitions in the UK. The plan is in years to come for the WCB to travel to different countries, the UK included. There are currently five contests a year – eating up 15 tonnes of coke! ‘Striker of the year’ wins a Stonewell Truck Body worth approximately $10,000! This simple idea, complimented by a huge prize, further encourages people staying to watch and learn – not to disappear to the bar!
Prior to the coffee break, Billy confirmed that Lucy is currently receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer following a diagnosis at Christmas. All that know Lucy admire and respect her courage and determination in her treatment and this has quite clearly spread across to the US. Craig presented Lucy with a steel heart, forged by himself, which has travelled all around the US to farriers who have stamped their name on it. As we all know this is no mean feat! Despite a few panics with the location of the heart and a couple of long ‘pit stops’ (“like herding 3 cats in the same direction!”) it was returned to Craig for him to present to Lucy this weekend. A symbol of “positive energy” and to “wish her well”, a gesture endorsed by so many of us.
Craig’s PowerPoint presentation included an insight into his working life on a daily basis. Acknowledging he is into ‘recycling’ Craig talked us through the forging of a roadster made from 3 old keg (manufactured) shoes. These were welded together to make a billet and then folded over. After “two shirts, multiple burns, one pair of safety glasses, and a bottle of flux” he had a 10” piece of steel – not a cost or time effective method of making shoes but a fine, if not slightly mad, example of great forging!
Horses feet in New Mexico are very dry, this time of year especially it is possible to need to re-sharpen your knives between each set of shoes. For this reason the linnisher is the most used tool in the truck. Full appreciation for the quality of the trim was reiterated; a particularly hard element of shoeing is “fitting the foot we trim”. If you shoe 6 horses, 24 feet a day, that is equal to 24 tests a day; when brushing out a foot you have a “million” things to think about and you start to recall previous experiences. Expressing a like for masselot clips an array of shoeing examples ensued that depicted a thoughtful approach to every day shoeing and shoemaking. Sidebone shoes were endorsed as “remedial shoes with an everyday application”. Images sourced on the web (including from Forge & Farrier!) are used to provide a basis for learning and developing forging skills – illustrating a willingness to always try new forging pieces.
On average Craig will show 6 to 8 horses a day, although when Bodie is with him this number is likely to be nearer to “76”! Bodie is a keen horse rider who provides valuable feedback when riding the horses, often new shoes are tried on Bodie’s horses and, together with Craig, their effects are evaluated. Efficiency in shoeing is highlighted of particular importance; fitting feet burns time. If you approach a horse with a shoe to fit and it fits first time you are more efficient. With an allowance of 45 minutes to shoe a horse, Craig believes after that time the “job digresses”, being aware of what you are doing is essential - “the results are what you are about; our trade is consumer driven”.
Citing that the aim of shoeing is a “nice hoof capsule with no hoof distortion” – ultimately you aim to have the foot looking a little bit better each time. Horses are very resilient to what we do and Craig believes farriers should be able to periodically “throw caution to the wind”. To cite his friend, Shayne Carter, “if you shoe two horses the same you are shoeing one of them wrong”.
Horseshoeing blogs provide a further learning tool for Craig, perhaps not always in the conventional way we use them to exchange information and images! One particular ‘blog’ conversation resulted in a 2200 mile trip to meet a fellow blogger and for each to shoe a horse on one side over a period of 3 shoeings to debate a point regarding the use of toe clips. Images taken from each shoeing illustrated that Craig’s ‘side’ shod with toe clips looked increasingly better, however the overriding point was to illustrate learning between each other and the advantages of exchanging such experiences.
Prior to lunch and the afternoon practical demonstration a little more detail was given into Craig’s theory into trimming and shoeing the equine foot. Citing the major part of the foot as the “fold” or the bend” – the point at which the hoof changes from leaning under to dishing out. Everything behind the widest part of the foot pushes in and forward and everything in front pushes out and forward. You need laminae attachment to have a sound horse therefore the shape of the hoof should be that of the coffin bone. As a reminder to all farriers “how many carry a coffin bone in their vans on a daily basis?” - Staying in touch with the anatomy is important - doctors have skeletons, dentists have teeth in their surgeries. The coffin bone acts a gate hinge; the point of articulation (slightly behind the extensor process) does not change however how it breaks out of the ground can change. Whilst veterinarians tend to see things in a square world (x-rays front and side view) in reality we live in a round world.
Horses are set up for purchase and leverage. Mirroring the coffin bone gives the horse the opportunity to breakover where it wants to - expressing a dislike for natural balance shoes, rolling to a flat edge in search of a new purchase point is clearly depicted by envisaging a flat tyre on a car. You should not be trying to create a “kink” within the outline of the foot. ‘Breakover’ or ‘purchase point’ is a hotly debated subject in the US as it is here in the UK. Vets in the US lean towards break over; a separation between many farriers and the veterinarian. As Craig reiterates, propulsion comes from the hind quarters, “lock, lead and push-off”.
The front part of the foot is a farrier’s friend and care should be taken of it: necrosis in the front part of the foot ultimately leads to trouble but, the back half of the foot is very resilient and consists of cartilage and tissue. Damage to the front part of the foot has longer consequences.
‘Stumbling’ in horses is a common complaint heard by farriers from many clients. In reality can trimming a horse’s toe by an additional few millimetres really make a difference to the horse? Quite often this is a complaint heard from less experienced riders. Following hearing a lecture in Japan Craig explained that the stay apparatus is the same as the suspensory in that connection is made up over the whither, neck, poll and down into the face and mouth - contact with mouth mid stride can therefore often result in stumbling. Knocking into a human mid stride will cause them to go off balance but knocking into them when they have both feet on the ground is unlikely to make them do so.
Craig employs the use of a contour gauge - it is preferential to see mirror images within the foot and that is your aim despite not always achieving it, and a ‘golden means’ - correctly proportioned elements within the foot. The ‘golden means’ is a mathematical equation that Mother Nature exists upon – ultimately achieving balance and proportion. This is a ratio of 1:1.612 - your own ‘golden ratio’ measures can be made by having two pieces of bar stock, 13 1/8” in length and riveted 5” from one end. The frog is therefore shown to be the same length as the dorsal aspect – it doesn’t change. This can also be clearly demonstrated in many body parts including fingers from knuckle joint to knuckle joint, the length and width of a credit card and many pictures frames.
The practical demonstration began with a thorough and competent assessment of the horse, the whole limb and a detailed analysis of the foot. Any deviations from what would be most desirable were noted. “All horses’ feet would be perfect if they did not stand on them” – general wear and tear aggravated by conformation and work has a direct impact on the hoof. Remodelling occurs just from standing; the 950lb horse stood with one hind leg resting places perhaps 600lbs on its front limbs. The use of the contour gauge was employed to demonstrate the desired foot shape (by holding over the bridge of the foot and then placing it on the solar surface) and the ‘golden ratio’ reiterated proportioning.
Shoes were made for each front and hind. Stance at the anvil was alluded to – variations can dramatically affect how you forge a shoe. Craig builds the heels of a shoe first, the outside edge is “cleaned up” to “make it user friendly”. The bar is placed over the bick at the point at which the heel quarter should be and pulled back to you as the quarter is bent over, this is particularly important with the hind shoe. Fullering beginning at a slight different spot each time to give a seamless even depth as each hammer blow overlaps, giving the appearance that one tool punched it in. Straight lines on the edges of the bar stock are important – otherwise the fullering has nothing to follow! A definite outside and inside on the heel is desirable. You should always have your tongs where your body is; “not everyone is a Grant Moon with a human body vice!”. Craig employs a clear ‘system’ for building shoes, repetitive processes to each side of a shoe to achieve the desired result and ultimately consistency. The top of the shoe was rasped off so that the lines around the outside can be clearly seen – the importance of rasping and filing in both every day shoeing and competition shoeing was noted. Craig examines the burn on the shoe carefully; believing that the burn “tells you everything” and is currently undervalued by many farriers. Shoes were fitted (with little correction!) and nailed on before clenching. The contour gauge earlier used to reflect the shape over the bridge of the foot was placed back on the underside of the foot after both trimming and shoeing, the shape in all examples was clearly mirrored.
A chance for farriers attending the clinic to have particular forging elements explained, the latter part of the afternoon included a ‘Z’ (“zee” or “zed”!) bar shoe and masselot clips. These were simply forged used effective techniques and systems. These particular requests involved farriers putting hands in their pockets, as did the subsequent auctioning of the shoes, and a total of £485 after just two demonstrations and two shoes was raised which will be donated to Breakthrough for Breast Cancer.
A long and very full day which passed quickly and was run smoothly was complete with a chance to catch up with friends and view the wide range of farriery supplies available. Handmade Shoes conduct clinics twice a year and the quality of clinicians has been excellent; the clinics (provided free of charge) are always well attended and informative and follow in the company’s mission to reinvest and ‘give back’ to the industry. Craig Trnka provided a thought provoking and educational clinic in addition to demonstrating a high level of humility and a caring personality coupled with an unforgettable and hilarious injection of humour! Thank you to Craig and to all who attended.
“Everything you ever wanted is right outside your comfort zone”